If Ub40, and Billy's Not Your Idol, Then MTV Has a Soft-Rock Spin-Off for You
They say it's a channel for people who like music but who are no longer on the cutting edge of rock'n'roll. That's just a delicate way of saying it's music for those of us who are future full-figured women, and for men who'll soon be searching for their receding hairlines. I guess I'm one of those women. Last known dance to emerge from this body: the mashed potato. Last hip word from these lips: groovy. One day you can boogie till you drop, and the next day you find yourself tapping your foot to the Chariots of Fire theme.
Perhaps the hardest part of this rite of passage into "older" music is realizing that advertisers have lumped you in with people wearing trusses instead of training bras. Once you are over that emotional pain, VH-1 is quite palatable, if not unavoidably bland. We are dealing here with marshmallow rock—music videos that are soft and cushy. There's Olivia Newton-John in concert. Stevie Nicks is doing what she does best—twirling around in gossamer dresses. Lionel Richie is at the piano. Al Jarreau, Chicago, Hall and Oates, Kenny Rogers turn up regularly. There's Julio Iglesias and Diana Ross doing their 1980s version of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. (Does this man ever wear anything besides a tuxedo?) Just when you feel that your eyelids are about to droop, VH-1 hits you with Da Doo Ron Ron by Karen Kamon. (Those of us in this age group, however, probably remember the original 1963 hit by the Crystals.)
The videos are more tame and less imaginative than those on MTV. About 20 percent of those seen on MTV will turn up on VH-1—crossover artists like Tina Turner and Lionel Richie—and those videos so far are the best of the VH-1 bunch. The question is whether red-hot MTV directors like Bob (Beat It) Giraldi will drop what they're doing to crank out a Herb Alpert number.
VH-1's aesthetics are easier on the senses too. Instead of bands exploding out of the La Brea Tar Pits in neon makeup, there are endless outdoorsy scenes of singers strolling along sundrenched beaches—sometimes in tuxes and chic evening wear, just as in real life. It's always a pleasure to see somebody besides Boy George wearing a flowy, strapless dress.
The nearest thing to violence on this channel, compared with its frequently maligned sister network, was that which spewed from Don Imus' mouth. (He's one of four VH-1 veejays.) New York's resident radio bad boy is big on insult humor, and it may not go over well in this format. After Stevie Wonder's I Just Called to Say I Love You video, Imus cracked, "That was Stevie Wonder and I Just Called to See What You Look Like. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh." Okay, Don, you like insults? Here's one: Get a new suit; yours has lapels big enough to fly you to Florida.
Another highly promoted feature is VH-1's entertainment and people news. Alas, much of it is stale. "Frank Sinatra has agreed to play himself in a six-hour miniseries based on his life story." Hey, didn't I read that somewhere before? Yeah, just about everywhere. In the "One-on-One" interviews—snippets that look like Entertainment Tonight hand-me-downs—we learn that Kenny Rogers' idol is Ray Charles, and that Paul McCartney likes fatherhood. Dick Clark is asked why American Bandstand worked. They should have asked him why he still looks 35 when he's really 55.
The creators of VH-1 promise "comfort, friendliness and stability," the same qualities my mother always looked for in a gas station rest room. The truth is, this music is easy listening for us old folks. Whether anybody will dump Dallas or Dynasty to watch Hall and Oates is another matter. Of course, people said the same thing about MTV, which now has 24 million subscribers. Still, as a music-video channel, VH-1 makes great radio.